NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear next week the plea by Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Abhishek Banerjee and his wife Rujira Banerjee’s petition challenging a Delhi High court order that had refused to quash summons issued by Enforcement Directorate (ED) against them in connection with money laundering probe linked to an alleged coal scam in West Bengal.
The petition filed through advocate Sunil Fernandes states that the high court has erroneously dismissed the writ petition.
The high court order, the petition noted, essentially holds that section 50 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and section 160 of the Criminal Procedure Code are in conflict with each other.
"…It further holds that the petitioners herein cannot avail any benefit of Section 160 CrPC and that they shall be governed by Section 50 of the PMLA, which does not provide that a witness must be examined in his/her local area, as Section 160 CrPC does, the impugned order holds that the Respondent-ED is justified in law, in summoning the petitioners to their office in New Delhi for investigation rather than conducting the said investigation at their Kolkata office.”
"Thus the substantial question of law, having great public importance that arises for the kind consideration of this Hon’ble Court in the instant petition is whether the Respondent-ED can assume a pan-India jurisdiction, to summon any person, without indicating to such person as to whether they are being summoned as an accused/ suspect or as a witness, at any place of their choice, under the purported garb of Section 50 of the PMLA, in utter derogation of the Fundamental Rights of the witness/accused persons, salutary principles of fair play and expeditious investigation, and the extant provisions of the CrPC and the PMLA." It added
The petitioners have said the high court has failed to appreciate that they have reason to believe that the examination of other women in the concerned ECIR was conducted by the ED under Section 50 PMLA, at their respective residences in Kolkata and hence, Rujira Banerjee had a reasonable and legitimate expectation to be treated fairly by the investigating agency.
"The Enforcement directorate instead of responding to her repeated requests chose to prosecute her and further compel/force the Petitioner to appear in New Delhi." the plea said.
The petition has alleged that the high court order virtually vests unfettered pan-India mandate on the ED and gives it uncontrolled power to operate dehors the well-established and long-standing principles of criminal jurisprudence pertaining to territorial jurisdiction vis-a-vis place of occurrence of offence, cause of action, and residence of accused persons and summoned persons etc.
“The impugned order fails to appreciate that the Petitioners are permanent residents of Kolkata. It also fails to appreciate that the entire alleged cause of action and the place of the alleged offence, is in the State of West Bengal,” it said,
The High court had dismissed their petition stating that allegations of mala fide intentions have to be proved by them and they should not be based on conjectures and surmises.
“…Further, so far as the allegations of malafides are concerned, the same has no place in criminal investigations. Secondly, it is settled law that allegations of malafides are easier to be made than to actually make out. The allegations of malafides need to be corroborated with concise statements of material facts which inspire confidence. Thirdly, apart from non-applicability of such grounds in a criminal investigation, the PMLA and CrPC provides for enough and sufficient safeguard with checks and balances to obviate any such apprehension,” the high court order said.
The high court had said that the officers of Directorate of Enforcement cannot be said to be a police station under the meaning of section 2 (s) of the Criminal Procedure Code.
“…it may further be noted that a police station has a specific statutory meaning and when any person is summoned under Section 50 of the PMLA, including a woman, such woman is not summoned to a “police station” as envisaged under Section 160 of the CrPC," the high court had said.
The High Court had dismissed Banerjees' plea who had challenged the September 10, 2021 summons issued to them and had sought direction to the ED not to summon them for their appearance in Delhi since they are residents of West Bengal. The 34-year-old MP represents the Diamond Harbour seat in Lok Sabha and is the national general secretary of the TMC.
The ED lodged a case under the provisions of the PMLA based on a November 2020 FIR registered by the CBI that alleged a multi-crore coal pilferage scam related to Eastern Coalfields Ltd mines in the state's Kunustoria and Kajora areas in and around Asansol.
Local coal operative Anup Majee is alleged to be the prime suspect in the case. The probe agency had claimed that the TMC MP was a beneficiary of funds obtained from this illegal trade. Banerjee has denied all charges.
(With Inputs From Agencies)